Scott Mulligan
Director U.S, LAM LHA
June 2, 2023

The (Possible) Future Of API In Europe – What You Need To Know.

A major review of the EU’s Directive on Advance Passenger Information, or API, is currently underway, which may considerably affect the way airlines and authorities operate.  Hannah Evans, Intern Consultant at LAM LHA, outlines how API data collection could be reformed and the potential impact on air carriers.  

API is passenger information collected and verified by air carriers typically during check-in, and corresponds to the passenger’s biographic information (ie. travel document information) and the flight information. This information, transmitted to the border control authorities, allows authorities to anticipate arrivals at their border, namely by having advanced knowledge of individuals which may require further attention.

The API Directive of 2004 imposed the obligation for air carriers to transmit passenger data to Member States prior to take-off for inbound flights to the Schengen area. Over the years, Member States have failed to create a robust and consistent approach to API. Divergent transposition and implementation of EU requirements has lead instead to a fragmented framework throughout Europe. This fragmented framework has repeatedly shed light on limitations and gaps of the Directive for law enforcement and border management. In December 2022, the European Commission presented two proposals aimed at reforming how API data is being collected and processed in the EU. The proposed changes would harmonize the processing of API data under a new instrument, a Regulation, aligning the type of data that needs to be collected with international standards, providing a clearer legal basis for the collection of API data for law enforcement purposes, and providing a framework for the collection of API data for intra-Schengen flights.

In doing so, the future API Regulation would complement the process and information being collected by authorities under the PNR Directive (Passenger Name Records). PNR being (unverified) information collected by air carriers in the normal course of their business, often overlapping with API, the new framework would increase data quality, facilitate the reconciliation of passenger data overall, and limit the number of false positives. This would also allow for the processing of API data on select ‘risky’ intra-Schengen routes, in line with EU jurisprudence on the protection of passenger data for travel within the free movement area.

The European Commission also considered – but did not propose – the collection of API data for other modes of transport, in particular for maritime transport where manifests and passenger data are already being shared with national authorities. When it comes to land and rail transport, it was assessed that further analysis on the necessity, proportionality, and technical feasibility of processing passenger data in these areas should be undertaken. The case of high-speed train connections with no or few stops, is particularly interesting, given they often compete with airlines for these routes.

Air carriers on their part, are already bracing for impact. A surge in the amount of data to be transferred to national or European authorities under the new Regulation is inevitable. The Commission’s proposal to create a single-window hosted by the EU’s Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (euLISA) for transmitting passenger data instead of needing to be directly connected to all Member State’s Passenger Information Unit, could indeed facilitate and streamline the future process for airlines. But industry will still bear the costs of Europe’s past hesitations and patchwork approach to the use of passenger data for border and internal security.

Discussions are ongoing in the European Parliament and in the European Council on amending the Commission’s proposals. As has often been the case before with the sensitive issue of collecting personal data for law enforcement and border management purposes, political headwinds are to be expected. The review of the API Directive might allow the EU and Member States to align with international standards and UN requirements, it will need to carefully balance out the needs of national authorities, the protection of individual and fundamental rights, and the competitiveness of European aviation.

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